Friday, November 21, 2014

Election post-mortem, a top comment

When I posted the following as the tip jar to Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Philae lands on comet), I didn't do anything different from all the rest of the tip jars that became election news entries here.  This time, it got recognized in Top Comments: New Jaguar Cubs Edition over at Daily Kos.
This diary-worthy personalized tip jar by Neon Vincent from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Philae lands on comet). That's one amazing tip jar and believe it to be the very first Tip Jar to make a Top Comment.
Honestly, it was nothing special, but I'll take the praise.

Follow over the jump for the three news items I on a common theme that I strung together to make the first tip jar to be recognized as a top comment at Daily Kos.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Gas prices drop to $2.79

In Gas prices and mileage down, shopping up, I posted Professor Farnsworth to mark that the corner station had matched all the rest in the neighborhood at $3.85.  Also, the KCRA video in that entry forecast that prices would continue to drop.  Yesterday, all four outlets hit a new low in the history of this blog, $2.79.  Time for the limbo kitty to return.

Follow over the jump for what the local price environment and commodities futures say about current and future prices.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Polar vortex and the economy

With the return of cold weather this week, it's time to follow up on Weather and the economy for February 2014 with an article from Northern Illinois University that I included in last Saturday's Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Philae lands on comet) on Daily Kos.

Sucked into the polar vortex
NIU analysis of last winter shows widespread impacts of bitter cold
November 13, 2014
With the unseasonably frigid air this week, memories resurfaced of last winter’s biting cold, brought on by the dreaded polar vortex.

But as NIU climatologist David Changnon points out, it’s not simply the cold that makes us miserable.

Changnon, who has been studying the impacts of last winter for an upcoming publication, can describe the countless ways in which the winter hurt, ranging from U.S. flight delays and Great Lakes shipping slowdowns to a plethora of potholes and water main breaks.

It all amounted to an economic punch in the nose.

“For a national economy still recovering from the damaging recession of 2008, last winter helped to create a significant setback,” says Changnon, a Board of Trustees Professor from NIU’s Department of Geography.

“Economists reported that half of the economic slowdown last winter was due to the bad weather conditions. For example, Ford attributed $100 million in losses to the winter. Because more people stayed inside due to the extremely cold conditions and reduced their spending, the national GNP shrank at an annual rate of 2.1 percent from January to March.”
That was last winter.  What about the current cold snap, which sent the thermometer in the new car down to 16F on the drive home?
Changnon says the impact of the November 2014 polar vortex should be minimal, because it’s not occurring in the heart of winter. It’s unclear whether it is a predictor of the winter to come.

“This may be the only major polar vortex event of the entire cold season,” Changnon said. “Since the complex factors that create such a scenario can change independent of one another and at different time scales, it is just hard to say.

“However, one of the main causes for last year’s frequent occurrence of the polar vortex, a large body of ocean with above average sea-surface water temperatures in the north Pacific, still exists. So many long-range winter forecasters feel like the probabilities are weighted toward a number of polar vortex events this cold season. It might not be as extreme as last year, but we might see more of the polar vortex than we typically experience.”
Ugh, brr.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

U.S.-China climate deal

I'm in the mood for some good news tonight, so here is something I mentioned at the end of U.S. home ownership rate and me, the U.S.-China climate deal.  Take it away, LiveScience!

US-China Climate Accord Gives Hope for Global Agreement
by Megan Gannon, News Editor
November 13, 2014 07:02am ET
The United States and China surprised climate-policy watchers this week by announcing a rare accord to cut carbon pollution. As details of the agreement are released, experts are hopeful that cooperation between the world's two biggest economies, and two biggest carbon emitters, bodes well for an as-yet elusive global climate pact.

"For many years, the reluctance of the U.S. and China to make strong commitments has been an oft-used excuse by other countries to not take action," said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

"In fact, many in the U.S. Congress have resisted taking action because they argued that China wasn't acting," Leiserowitz told Live Science in an email. "And many Chinese leaders have long used the same argument about the United States to avoid making their own commitments. This very public and early agreement by the two largest national emitters in the world should help break the long-standing logjam in the international negotiations."
Not only is this good news, but it's exactly the kind of cooperation I was hoping for when I first called the Sino-American relationship The CoDominion in U.S.-China EcoPartnerships: The CoDominion plans for sustainability and repeated in An update on The CoDominion planning for sustainability.  Given what the rest of the climate news I included in last week's Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday on Daily Kos was like, it comes not a moment too soon.*  I should curb my enthusiasm, as the result is likely to be what Paul Krugman describes in China Deals.
[O]ne of the main arguments the usual suspects make against action — after arguing that it’s all a gigantic hoax, any limits on emissions will destroy the economy, and liberals are ugly — is that nothing the US does can matter, because China will just keep on emitting. Some of us have long argued that this is way too pessimistic — that the advanced countries, if they are willing to limit their own emissions, can have a lot of leverage via the threat of carbon tariffs. But now China is showing itself willing to deal even without that.

So you could say that a major prop of the anti-climate-action campaign has just been knocked away. But as I said, it probably won’t matter; they’ll just come up with another excuse.
I wish Krugman was wrong, but he probably isn't.  Sigh.

*Stay tuned for an entry about these stories.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Driving update for November 2014: new car

I mentioned that my wife and I bought a new car in Michigan universities on buying cars and then I gave my final update on my old car in Farewell, Yuki.  It's time to give the first driving update for the new car.

My wife and I bought the new car, the name of which I haven't settled on yet between Dez and Lapis (it will happen; it took me a couple of years to call the Tracker Ruby), on September 29th when the odometer read 43,400.  It passed 44,000 miles on Saturday, November 15th.  That's 600 miles in 48 days for an average of 12.5 miles/day or 381.25 miles/month.  That's not much more than the 11.90 miles/day and 363.10 miles/month I drove Yuki during the comparable period last year, but definitely up from the 11.36 miles/day and 346.59 miles per month I drove her between April and July this year.  Still, it's not as much as I expected would happen from the temptation of a new car making driving more fun and all the driving required to look for houses to buy and it makes for a good baseline.  Now, all I need is the next driving update on Ruby to compute the last driving update for our current address and use that to compare what the effect of moving will be on our driving habits.  I expect our miles will go up, as the new neighborhood is not as walkable and the location is farther away from one of my worksites although about the same distance from the other, while the commute is much quicker.

To put my driving in perspective, I'm including the latest miles driven update from Calculated Risk: DOT: Vehicle Miles Driven increased 0.4% year-over-year in August.
Travel on all roads and streets changed by 0.4% (1.0 billion vehicle miles) for August 2014 as compared with August 2013.

Travel for the month is estimated to be 267.8 billion vehicle miles.

Cumulative Travel for 2014 changed by 0.6% (11.1 billion vehicle miles).
Here's the graph.

Once again, I'm contributing to the trend.

Philae shoots photos before going inactive

I included both the videos from Rosetta: Philae to land on comet and other November space events and Philae lands on comet in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Philae lands on comet) on Daily Kos along with updated material from  Time to return the favor and post the new items here.  Under the "if it moves, it leads" rule, I begin with Comet Landing - Surface and Descent Pics Beamed To Earth | Video.

A soft landing on the surface of comet 67P/C-G was successfully completed on Nov. 12th, 2014. The Philae lander and its mothership Rosetta probe both snapped imagery of the descent. Also, the first image taken from the surface of a comet is snapped by the lander.
That's the good news.  Here's the bad news: Philae Comet Lander Falls Silent as Batteries Run Out.
The first spacecraft ever to land on a comet has fallen silent, entering a potentially long, cold sleep after running out of power.

The European Space Agency's Philae lander completed its last transmission Friday (Nov. 14) at 7:36 p.m. EST (0036 GMT) before settling into a hibernation state as its batteries ran out. The probe had been studying the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko for 57 hours when it went to sleep, possibly for good.
Sigh.  It was nice while it lasted.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

'Prophets of Doom'

I opened U.S. home ownership rate and me with a warning of sorts:  "For those of my readers expecting an entertainment post, stay tuned; I'll get to it eventually."  After I wrote that, I went upstairs to clean the living and dining rooms for the real estate agent and turned on the television to entertain me while I straightened up.  While I was clicking through the channels, I came across "Prophets of Doom" on H2 (History Channel 2).  I read the description and wondered if any of the people I read were among those featured.  Sure enough, the first person I see interviewed was James Howard Kunstler.  Another was the late Michael Ruppert.  That was enough to keep me watching.

The rest of the subjects I didn't know, but David Ing listed them.
In the 94 minute show, investigative journalist Michael Ruppert, economist Dr. Nathan Hagens, author John Cronin, investigative journalist/author James Howard Kun[st]ler, computer scientist Dr. Hugo De Garis, and executive editor Robert Gleason came together to discuss some of the greatest threats to the future of the United States, including economic collapse, water shortages/contamination, peak oil, species dominance by self-aware robots, and nuclear terrorism.
Both Kunstler and Ruppert gave their familiar peak oil perspectives on the future.  Of the rest, the one who worried about the farthest off catastrophe was De Garis, whose fear was of The Singularity, the surpassing of human intelligence by artificial intelligence.  When he discussed his take on the future, I figured that Kunstler would likely have none of it.  Sure enough, he told De Garis that he thought that the resources and finances needed to support the research for artificial intelligence would dry up before the technology reached that point.  The result was that Kunstler didn't budge, but De Garis came away convinced that the other issues were fair more pressing than his particular worry.  In particular, he became most concerned about water shortages.

All in all, I found watching the documentary time well-spent.  If you want to see it, follow over the jump for the embedded video from YouTube.

U.S. home ownership rate and me

For those of my readers expecting an entertainment post, stay tuned; I'll get to it eventually.*  Instead, I'm going to explain my part in the graph above, as I rode it both up and down, reinforcing the trends.  The story begins, like the graph, in 1995, when my ex-wife and I bought the house that later became the first house I owned by myself.  That's the year when home ownership in the U.S. started rising and more-or-less marked the beginning of the housing boom/bubble. 

I moved into the house in 1999 and got it in the divorce settlement in 2000.  I enjoyed living there, but eventually it became a burden as my work moved farther and farther away from me.  As I recounted most recently in a meta update on driving:
From 2000-2004, I regularly put 40,000 miles on my car. In 2005, I began driving 1000 miles a week when school was in session to three different colleges and a tutoring service. Then on the weekends, I'd judge marching bands or cover drum and bugle corps shows. From May 2005 to May 2006, I drove 48,000 miles. That was the year I put my house up for sale, stopped seeing my long-distance girlfriend, and eventually sold my house. In June, I moved to the middle of my jobs and cut my driving down to 700 miles a week. Then I changed one of my jobsites and cut it down to 500 miles a week. Then I got a full-time job and quit my part-time jobs and dropped to 300 miles a week. Finally, we moved and I now drive 70 miles a week. I'm so close to work I could ride a bike on a good day.
I included a more detailed account of the sale in The Archdruid and I talk real estate.
The news on the radio in June 2005 trumpeted record home sales and prices.  I took it as a sign of the market top I'd been looking for since 2001 and immediately drove to the nearest real estate office to my home in the Irish Hills of Michigan and listed my house for sale.  The house sold in April 2006 and closed in May 2006, just as the bottom was about to fall out.

That was not only good for me, but good for the deer.  That winter, the deer ate my shrubs up to the seven foot level. Good thing they were eight feet tall at the time. I vowed that if I were still in my house the next firearms deer season, I'd finally break down and buy a rifle and a deer hunting license.  I never got the chance.  Lucky deer.
The result was that I got out of the market just in time, as the graph shows that home ownership began its steady slide immediately afterwards, then rented from 2006 until now, eight years of riding the real estate market down by staying out of it.

I showed my hand to Greer later in the entry, when I wrote, "Now to see about buying property as it struggles off the bottom."  Well, that time has arrived.  We've made an offer on a house and it's been accepted.  Wish my wife and me luck as we both get on board, just in time for the housing market to go back up.  Yes, it's a business as usual decision and I know these are not business as usual times, but as I'm fond of saying, I can't be all DOOM all the time.

Finally, speaking of trends in real estate, my wife and I are part of another trend.

Yes, we're in one of the markets where home ownership is increasing.  I shouldn't be reassured by moving with the herd, but in in this case, I am.

*Along with entries about raising fuel taxes to maintain Michigan's roads and the U.S.-China climate deal, both of which are old business being revisited.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Discovery News on mammoth de-extinction, the sequel

I have yet another installment of DNews on mammoth de-extinction.  Last time, they were wondering Are We Finally Ready To Clone A Mammoth?  This time, the question being asked is Woolly Mammoth Brain Found: Time To Clone?

In 2010, a woolly mammoth was discovered near Russia. New research says describes her brain as the best specimen in history! Catie Wayne is here to discuss what this could mean for the future of cloning.
The answer is still no.  Darn.

Friday, November 14, 2014

'Food Machine' from 'America Revealed'--two videos I show my students

It looks like I'm not done with corn, even after Corn for fuel, a story I tell my studentsCorn questions from 'Food, Inc.' worksheet, and Discovery News on high-fructose corn syrup.  Here is another video about America's number one crop from PBS that I show my students: AMERICA REVEALED | The Key Ingredient of the US Food Machine | PBS.

Discover just how large a role corn plays in the American food machine.
That's not the only video from the series I include in my lectures.  Follow over the jump for another and links to where I've blogged about the rest.